Rep. Waters Introduces Bill That Would Require Federal Prisons To Provide HIV Tests for Inmates, Allow Inmates To Opt Out
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) last week introduced a bill (HR 6038) that would require federal prisons to provide HIV tests for inmates at the beginning and end of their incarcerations, The Hill reports. The bill includes a provision that would allow inmates to opt out of testing. Waters included the opt-out provision to address concerns from some HIV/AIDS advocates who say they oppose mandatory testing because of issues associated with confidentiality and stigma, according to The Hill. Waters said that despite the provision, some HIV/AIDS advocates might feel some "discomfort" with the bill, adding, "There's a division among the AIDS groups. I'm moving beyond where they would normally want to go." Under guidelines released in June by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons, prisoners can request HIV tests, and prison medical workers are encouraged to conduct tests among inmates who exhibit symptoms of HIV. Under a 2005 policy statement issued by the bureau, HIV tests are mandatory in some cases, and prisoners cannot refuse to be tested. Waters said the current policy is "not very comprehensive," adding that under her bill, more prisoners would be tested and receive better care in prison and when they are released. Under Waters' bill, the bureau would be required to direct former inmates to treatment and counseling resources in their communities.
HIV/AIDS Among Blacks
According to Waters, the bill is part of a campaign to address HIV/AIDS among blacks, who account for a disproportionate share of the country's prison inmates, The Hill reports (Young, The Hill, 9/12). According to a study released last year by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, government data indicates that in 1996, more than 50% of prisoners in the U.S. were black. The researchers also found that the increase of HIV/AIDS cases among blacks since the 1980s, most notably among women, corresponds with the increase in the proportion of black men in prison (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/9). According to a study of 2003 data released in 2005 by the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.8% of men and 2.6% of women in federal and state prisons are HIV-positive. The study also found that 0.51% of federal and state inmates are living with AIDS. According to prison's bureau spokesperson Mike Truman, the most recent federal survey indicates that an estimated 0.9% to 1% of the 192,000 federal inmates in the U.S. are HIV-positive. According to Lester Wright -- chief medical officer and deputy commissioner of the Division of Health Services in New York state's Department of Correctional Services -- Waters' bill might result in more HIV tests among prisoners and better care, but there is no way to foresee how many prisoners will refuse to be tested (The Hill, 9/12).